If you Google, “Lawrence M. Blatt,” the top results detail an American pharmaceutical company executive, complete with an endowed chair in his name in the biology (virology) department at Indiana University Bloomington. We look forward to your reading (subscribe FREE here) about this fascinating executive who has now cofounded two biopharmaceutical companies and is the current CEO of Aligos Therapeutics.
But here’s something you might find incredibly intriguing. If you do a Google search for “Lawrence Blatt” (absent the middle initial), the top result is the home page for an award-winning music recording artist, composer, and producer. Guess what? These two people are one in the same! Blatt admits that keeping these two versions of himself separate is becoming increasingly difficult. “There are periods where I have time to do music professionally, and periods when I don’t, and now — when I’m starting a new company — is one of those periods where I don’t.”
As my daughter (a guitarist, composer, and recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music) has hopes of becoming a professional musician, I can’t help being curious to learn more regarding Blatt’s experiences as a musician. So, during our in-person interview, the results of which can be found in the upcoming July feature, “Aligos Therapeutics — The Next Step Of Lawrence Blatt’s Entrepreneurial Expedition,” I took few minutes to explore his perspectives as an artist.
“Music Is A Very Tough Business”
Success in the music industry used to be determined by how many records an artist sold. But today, success is determined by how many people listen to your music. “The way people are forging careers in music right now is similar to guerilla warfare — using social media and other alternative ways to promote themselves,” Blatt shares. “People think PR in the music industry just happens organically. It doesn’t. It is all purpose built.” For example, the two most important music streaming services are Pandora and Spotify. “There’s nothing you can do to influence Pandora, as it plays/selects music based on a computer-generated algorithm,” he explains. But Spotify is human curated. “This means you as the artist have to identify people who are producing playlists of your music’s genre, and then lobby them to put your stuff on their playlists.” According to Blatt, if a musician does not do as he suggests, their music will not get played on Spotify. “That’s very time consuming,” he contends. Blatt shares that last year he had about 50 million “spins” on Spotify. “I probably made about $10,000 in total from that,” he attests. “Imagine how different that would look had I sold 50 million records?” With the exception of Sirius XM radio, Blatt says that most music streaming services don’t pay artists very much, and he offers the following advice for aspiring artists. “Being successful in the music industry is probably 10 percent being a musician, with the other 90 percent being an entrepreneur, promoter, and anything else that it takes.”
Another change to the music industry involves touring. In the past, concert tours were used to promote album sales, and a tour might even run at a loss. But streaming music for free decreased record sales, so concerts (along with merchandise sales) became an important revenue stream for professional musicians. And though Blatt has performed live internationally, touring (as a means of income) isn’t very realistic for a busy biopharmaceutical executive.
It used to be that bands/artists wanting to “make it” had to get signed to a record label, which bankrolled professional studio recording and entry into the labels’ international distribution system. “Unless your kid plans on being someone like Rihanna, under no circumstances should they sign with a record label, because all they will do is steal their intellectual property.” Today, armed with only a laptop, artists can make high-quality recordings and push these out to the masses via existing and free internet platforms. “The barriers to entry have certainly been lowered,” Blatt concedes. “One of my most successful albums that is played on the radio all the time, I recorded in my closet — literally.” His first album, Out Of The Woodwork, came out in 2006, the same year he launched his first startup (Alios BioPharma). Since then, he’s released Fibonacci’s Dream (2007), The Color Of Sunshine (2009), Emergence (2014), and Longitudes And Latitudes (2016). In 2016, Blatt joined a newly assembled ensemble called FLOW. The group recorded an album of the same name at Imaginary Road Studios, which was released on Blatt’s own record label (LMB Music) the same week they performed at Carnegie Hall (Sept. 2019). “That was pretty exciting.”
Has COVID-19 Provided A Greater Appreciation For Everything?
As Blatt and I conclude our conversation about the music industry being tough, I remark how working in drug development isn’t necessarily any easier. “It isn’t any easier, but at least you can get paid on a regular basis,” he laughs. But then he shares something only a professional drug developing musician would know — and it’s telling. “I will very routinely get emails from people saying how important my music has been to them. And yet, I’ve been a co-inventor of drugs that have saved people’s lives and have never heard from anybody.” Good thing Blatt didn’t get into the business of biopharma as a means of seeking patient adoration.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has certainly given all of us a much greater appreciation for just about everything, including music and the arts, as this is what we’ve turned to take our minds off the current chaos. But we’ve also gained a greater appreciation for healthcare workers, grocery store employees, teachers, truckers, and everyone else putting their lives at risk to sustain us. While all of these people have proven more important than we likely would have realized without the coronavirus, our saving grace will come from life science leaders like Blatt — striving to find tests and treatments during unprecedented events at incredibly accelerated rates. And for that, we should all be incredibly thankful.